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Leadership Worth Sharing, episode #10: Girl Dreamer

Welcome to Leadership Worth Sharing, a podcast in which ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning talks to civil society CEOs about their careers, their experiences and what leadership means to them.

In the last episode of 2019, Vicky speaks to three fantastic women: the founders of Girl Dreamer Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar, and the CEO of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Nicola Brentnall. They talk about how girls of colour are seen in our society, why disruptors make the best role models and how you can find leadership in all sorts of different circumstances – including longboarding in the streets of Birmingham.

Scroll down for the full transcription of the episode.


Vicky Browning [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Vicky Browning chief executive of ACEVO, the network for charity and civil society leaders. Welcome to Leadership worth sharing, a podcast in which I talk to civil society chief execs about their careers, their experiences and what leadership means to them.

In the last episode of 2019, I’m speaking to three fantastic women: the founders of Girl Dreamer Kiran Kaur and Amna Akthar, and the CEO of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Nicola Brentnall. We talk about how girls of colour are seen in our society, why disruptors make the best role models and how you can find leadership in all sorts of different circumstances – including longboarding in the streets of Birmingham.

Welcome to ACEVO podcast. It’s brilliant to see you. I am sitting in our office with three amazing women today, and I think it might be good just to get you to introduce yourselves to the people who are listening, can see who’s who, can hear who’s who.

Amna Akhtar [00:00:13] Yeah, sure. Hello! So, my name is Amna. Thank you for having me here today. 

Kiran Kaur [00:00:17] Hi! And I’m Kiran, the co-founder of Girl Dreamer.

Nicola Brentnall [00:00:20] And I’m Nicola Brentnall. I have the privilege to be the first chief executive of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, working in collaboration with these two awesome women.

Vicky Browning [00:00:28] Kiran and Amna, you run Girl Dreamer.

Kiran Kaur [00:00:30] Yes.

Vicky Browning [00:00:31] Kiran, you said you’re the COO.

Kiran Kaur [00:00:31] Yes.

Vicky Browning [00:00:33] And Amna what’s your title?

Amna Akhtar [00:00:34] I’m a bunch of things. And so I am definitely co-founder as well as creative director.

Vicky Browning [00:00:39] So tell me a bit about Girl Dreamer. What is it do and what makes it special?

Kiran Kaur [00:00:43] So Girl Dreamer is a non-profit organisation based in Birmingham. We act as an empowerment platform for Millennial and Gen Z women of colour. We essentially want to provide unique opportunities for personal and professional development, and we do that in areas such as leadership, adventure sports, digital skills. And essentially we want to enhance the way women of colour have access to opportunities so that they can live their best lives in all areas.

Vicky Browning [00:01:15] What prompted you to start this organisation, how did it begin?

Amna Akhtar [00:01:18] I think it started back in college actually. So me and Kiran met on the first day of college and we became best friends. And then after college, when college was coming to an end, we wanted something more out of life. Kiran didn’t want to go down like a kind of traditional path of university, I certainly didn’t. And then we had this like I would call it a life-changing conversation one night on the phone for like six hours. But we talked about what we wanted to leave behind as a legacy to carry on empowering women and to have this platform where people our age and kind of around our age could turn to a platform for advice for different things.

Kiran Kaur [00:01:56] Support, opportunity.

Amna Akhtar [00:01:57] Yes.

Kiran Kaur [00:01:57] All the things that we couldn’t find at the time. We said, OK, we can’t find it. So let’s just create it. No experience, apart from life. But that’s a really good…

Amna Akhtar [00:02:09] Life and we used a lot of Google and YouTube videos to literally kickstart the business and learn all the jargon.

Vicky Browning [00:02:15] Nicola, how did you get involved with these amazing women, what’s your role?

Nicola Brentnall [00:02:18] I was involved through my klaxon of choice, social media and Twitter. Somebody I follow loves Girl Dreamer and started retweeting what they were doing. And I checked out the website and thought this is a fantastic organisation led by two extraordinary and striking leaders. So reached out through social media, had conversations with them, with Amna and Kiran about what they’re doing. And I’ve been kind of walking alongside them ever since that and learning a huge amount from their energy, their bravery, their dynamism and their commitment to leadership and to making the world an easier place to navigate.

Vicky Browning [00:02:52] You describe yourselves, Amna and Kiran, as two brown girls on a mission to change the way the next generation of girls of colour see themselves represented in our world. What do you, how do you feel that girls of colour are represented now? And how do you want to see that change?

Amna Akhtar [00:03:08] I feel like there’s a lot going on in the world right now with all the different platforms and the access we have to them constantly through our phones, devices and stuff. We constantly see like a positive reinforcement, I would say personally, physical appearance a lot. So it’s like wear your natural hair, wear your body hair. The empowerment of like melanin and especially for girls of colour to celebrate that. I feel like personally, there would still be gaps in terms of more on the mental side of like growing the leadership and the confidence mentally and internally more.

Kiran Kaur [00:03:41] It’s growing since we were in school and college.

Amna Akhtar [00:03:43] Definitely.

Kiran Kaur [00:03:43] And like social media is really helping in this sense. In 2007 when we had just finished school and college and just thinking about, you know, where you see people like yourselves and you know, you didn’t have social media, so you physically saw them in person or you would see a bit on the television. But now you have access to, you know, people who look like you doing all sorts of things all over the world. You see them in real-time. In a way that you wouldn’t before. But like Amna said, I think the bit that we’re not quite there with yet is there’s still a lot of institutional and systemic changes that need to be made for us to really, for young girls of colour to definitely see that, right, the representations are there, the pathways are there, I can do this or I can be this because like you said, you see like-minded people or people in your community doing things, but you still not seeing it wide enough in the kind of bigger picture.

Vicky Browning [00:04:28] Is there something about role models then?

Kiran Kaur [00:04:30] Massively, yeah.

Vicky Browning [00:04:30] Is there something about seeing people that look like you doing things that you didn’t think you were able to do or you didn’t think were possible?

Amna Akhtar [00:04:37] Yes.

Kiran Kaur [00:04:37] Yes. It’s a definite… Yeah, that’s a definite starting point, to just knowing that you can even access that space or you can successfully be there, you see someone do it first. And that really also helps on the side of, I think, culture, because sometimes when it’s something slightly different or not what many people like you do, you’re not only having to go into that space and come and sit on that side, you have to do it on your and your family, your culture, your community, so it really, really helps, and the more we can see it, the more things will change.

Vicky Browning [00:05:04] There’s two different elements there, there’s something you talked about the way young girls or girls of colour see themselves. So their physical appearance. But there’s also that sense of what the skills and confidence, there’s something about confidence as well. To be able to step into spaces and roles that they wouldn’t normally be able to access. Is this that kind of confidence that you’re helping or hoping to build?

Amna Akhtar [00:05:27] Definitely. And I think Kiran can speak about that more because growing up, we faced different challenges. And even though we’re both girls of colour, we’re both of South Asian background, there’s so many similarities, but so many differences as well. I had the chance to go and play sports professionally, but because of my background, my mum and dad were both immigrants. They didn’t see anybody else in football who looked like me. For my mum and dad, my dad specifically, it was like, no way. You are not running around half-naked in shorts, with boys on the pitch. So that had to stop by 14. But before that, I was constantly encouraged. But because I then built the passion for it and I was ready to do something with it now. That’s when it was just all like, no. You need to close that chapter. But with you, Kiran…

Kiran Kaur [00:06:12] Yeah, it was different. I had the access, had the support. If I said, you know, I wanted to go to the moon, they’d be like, great. But my issue at the time was what I said about representation because it was so lacking. I used to go to the spaces for really uncomfortable, not feel like I can do it, have no one to kind of ask, you know, how is this because there’s no one doing like, I was playing the piano at the time, I was doing jiujitsu and there was no one doing it. And so when I’d get there I’d feel so uncomfortable and then so out of place that I gave them up myself by 15 instead of it kind of being taken away. I took it away from myself. And now I see the way girls respond to seeing other girls in those spaces and how much that plays a part in them actually pursuing it.

Vicky Browning [00:06:52] So I’m just thinking about leadership. And leadership often is about stepping into a space where nobody else will go and doing something that needs doing, because you look around and you think, OK, nobody else is going to do this. It’s gotta be me. What do you think you have in you that got you to make that step?

Amna Akhtar [00:07:10] For me, I didn’t want to give up. I was brought up and growing up in an area called Bordesley Green, which is one of the most, I would say, deprived areas in Birmingham. And everyone in that area would kind of go to school. Fifty per cent would drop off before college and then they’d end up getting married. And I didn’t want to be married. I just didn’t want that. I always felt like I was different. I didn’t want to be in that school. I didn’t want to have those friends. I always wanted to be somewhere else. But I obviously couldn’t help it. This is where I was. But then when I got old enough to kind of make my own decisions, I was… And I had a great friend like Kiran, we both kind of came together and said, we want something different for our own selves and for the other women out there who also want something different in their lives as well. And that’s why we always try and create the most unique opportunities at Girl Dreamer.

Nicola Brentnall [00:07:59] The key is the word dream, you didn’t want to give up the on your dreams.

Amna and Kiran [00:08:04] No.

Nicola Brentnall [00:08:04] And knowing this, if you are two examples of girls and young women who shut down or were shut out of pursuing those dreams, how many other tens of thousands of young women around are doing the same thing?

Amna and Kiran [00:08:15] Yes.

Nicola Brentnall [00:08:16] In our relationship together, what’s come through really strongly for me is a laser focus on enabling other women to feel confident to have these opportunities and to follow their dreams. And there’s something really, really special about that kind of leadership, that desire and compassion.

Kiran Kaur [00:08:31] That’s exactly where I came from. So when I grew up from giving up my own dreams, I was like, if I could support other girls like me at that age, then I grew up and I became more confident in myself… I didn’t need other people’s permission. So then I was like, now I can go back and help that generation if there’s girls stuck like I am. And she’s in that position. But that’s going to take me stepping into these positions that are uncomfortable, where I feel out of place, I’m just going to have to kind of be there. Learn from them, grow in them and then say that that’s okay and hold that hand up for others. And that’s what it’s become.

Vicky Browning [00:09:02] In terms of the platform Girl Dreamer itself, how do you see your relationship to the women of colour that you engage with? Are you doing stuff to them? Are you doing stuff with them? How does all of that work?

Kiran Kaur [00:09:14] Definitely with.

Amna Akhtar [00:09:16] With.

Kiran Kaur [00:09:16] It’s a very like community thing, Girl Dreamer. It’s never just, you know, we hold projects and you come and we do two and then you go. And then that was the process. We connect with people online, in person. Yeah, they may come as a project. They may just come because they want support in general with their… they could come because they need advice. They come from all these different angles. And together like a group, we help each other. We’re just the people who can provide that particular opportunity. But the community of Girl Dreamer can help you with support, with networks, with guidance, with other options that we can’t. So we very much focus on how do we build a community around this so it’s not dependent on us being these providers of opportunities. It’s how do you support women to support women?

Vicky Browning [00:09:58] You… Are you based mostly in Birmingham? Do you have people coming to you from other parts of the UK? What’s your constituency?

Amna Akhtar [00:10:06] We’re physically based in Birmingham, but we’d like to think that we’re operating all over because we have an online platform, which means we have an audience of coming in from everywhere from the UAE to the UK, US, Australia, but specifically when we do hold projects, they’ve been just Birmingham and the Midlands. However, this year we’ve opened a few projects nationwide and if it’s like we need to meet somewhere, go somewhere, everyone would always meet in Birmingham.

Vicky Browning [00:10:34] Nicola, in terms of what you saw when you first engaged with Amna and Kiran… Your organisation works with leaders across the world. What do you look for in the people, the projects that you support in terms of those leadership qualities?

Nicola Brentnall [00:10:48] I think it’s what I touched earlier about laser focus on making something happen. This is about bringing about change. And the leaders that are causing what we call #TeamQCT, all have this desire to fix a problem that they can see. So that desire to make a change happen. So it’s about being organised. It’s about being focused. It’s about being compassionate, it’s about having a very clear strategy about how change can come about.

Vicky Browning [00:11:16] Kiran and Amna, when you were approached by QCT, was that… were you taken aback?

Kiran Kaur [00:11:21] Very much so. Oh, your mum…

Amna Akhtar [00:11:22] My mum thought I was going to meet Prince Harry and he was going to come, he was going to come over and my mum was going to meet him. I was like, mum it’s not the actual queen.

Kiran Kaur [00:11:32] It was hearing the word Queen, oh you’re going to meet the Queen! I was like no let me finish the sentence. The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust. And this is what it means. But it’s just like hearing, you know, words like that for our families it’s so, it’s a big thing.

Amna Akhtar [00:11:45] Weirdly like, it validated the work that I’m doing for my family because a lot of the time is alright, when are you getting a real job? When are you getting a job that pays more than like, 40k? So, when that connection happened and we received an email, it was just crazy.

Kiran Kaur [00:12:01] Yeah, at first I didn’t realise. And then when you reached out, it was over a longboarding picture wasn’t it?

Nicola Brentnall [00:12:04] That’s right, yeah.

Kiran Kaur [00:12:04] That’s what kicked it off, Amna on a longboard kicked it off. I remember being like, is this a real thing? Is the QCT actually really reached out?

Vicky Browning [00:12:16] What does it feel like to be women of colour in this sector, as chief executives? Do you feel that you’re in a community that’s reaching out and supporting you, engaging with you? Do you feel that there’s a kind of sector out there, that you kind of are doing your own thing and you’re not involved with? How do you feel about your place within the social sector more generally?

Kiran Kaur [00:12:34] I think every day we don’t necessarily feel that we’re like a part of… Because we very much kind of just do our own thing every day. And we’re just in our space doing our thing. And we very much feel like that all the time. The only time that changes is if we get invited to events or we’ve turned up to something where then we meet other leaders and all of the sudden, then we like kind of feel it. But we do feel disconnected at times, we’re very much, we just get on with our thing and then we enter the space and then it’s like a very nice formal kind of get together. And then we go back to our thing.

Vicky Browning [00:13:06] You sound quite comfortable with that, or do you think that the sector needs to change to be better of embracing people, younger leaders coming through?

Kiran Kaur [00:13:14] I think it definitely does.

Vicky Browning [00:13:16] Because we do lots of stuff in Birmingham. I can let you know.

Kiran Kaur [00:13:17] You do? That would be great. And I know there’s a lot more young leaders like us who are looking for that.

Vicky Browning [00:13:26] Right.

Kiran Kaur [00:13:26] So we tend to stick together because we don’t know that there’s something else out there for us to be a part of except one off events. And then some things. And we don’t really feel a part of it, if you’re going once every half a year. If more people and organisations and the sector in general could do that, they can move more with what they do and not be so like we’re based here and then everyone in the sector has to come here.

Vicky Browning [00:13:47] And Nicola, your organisation is probably a bit more kind of establishment, if you like, and a part of the kind of fabric of the sector. What do you think we need to do differently to make sure people like Amna and Kiran are engaged? And another young leaders you work with?

Nicola Brentnall [00:14:03] I think it’s about acceptance and openness within more established organisations and just looking to see where leadership can be found in a whole variety of different circumstances and places. And being willing, particularly as chief executives of my generation, thinking how much one can learn from other leaders, other women leaders, people much younger. And really drawing on that expertise. And it’s not just about social media and tech but from lived experience, leadership challenges and understanding how different perspectives can really make one’s own leadership far more enriched as a result of that.

Vicky Browning [00:14:41] In your CEO roles, you job share.

Kiran Kaur [00:14:46] Yeah. Yeah.

Amna Akhtar [00:14:46] Oh yeah.

Vicky Browning [00:14:48] So how does that work? How does that… Because you’re best mates, met on the day of college and now you’re running an organisation, hanging out with the Queen…

Amna Akhtar [00:14:58] I think we are really good in identifying each other’s needs and we know what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are. One thing that’s not good, is that because we work in our heads a lot. I can be Kiran, she can be me. Sometimes it’s like, there’s nothing in the drive. Because she’s like “I thought I told you that” or “I already said this”. We really need to work in the system because once we start getting staff in, they can’t read our minds. So I think the way that we work is I know Kiran’s srenghts in the sense of which one out of the two of us is going to go to networking events. That’s gonna be me. Kiran doesn’t like doing that that much.

Kiran Kaur [00:15:32] If they’re like logistics or they’re like written and they’re just very heavy and like information or like meetings and talking and funding…

Amna Akhtar [00:15:39] Boring bits…

Kiran Kaur [00:15:39] Yeah I knew you were going to say the boring bits… Those are like more my strenghts. And then when it’s like being the visionary in creating ideas and then kind of putting the projects together and mapping all those like actual on the ground things we do and then… Amna takes that. And then when it comes to execution and delivery, we both take it. So yeah, we have a nice of system. The important thing is that we know, we respect it. We play to each of the strengths, but we dip in and out all the time.

Vicky Browning [00:16:07] So you have your own leadership roles, but you also encourage leadership in the community that you work with. How do you talk to them about what leadership is?

Kiran Kaur [00:16:14] We don’t necessarily have like a conversation or even necessarily begin that way. The way we tend to get through to our community is just by doing really unique things and they kind of learn from it. For example, one of our biggest accomplishments with leadership has been the longboarding initiative and…

Vicky Browning [00:16:33] I don’t know what longboarding is.

Amna Akhtar [00:16:36] Longboarding is like skateboarding, but on a long board. Or it’s like surfing but on land.

Kiran Kaur [00:16:44] Yeah. So if you see and they look like they’re surfing around the streets of London, they’re long. They’re longboarding. But yes, that one, for example, that has been the biggest success in terms of leadership skills to the point where now we’ve got people who participated like three years ago to those same people who are now coaching and leading and doing that all without. They take cohorts and they know exactly what to do, and that comes from us kind of positioning these projects right in the community where we know it’s going to take a certain level of leadership skill to be able to bring it and to put it together and to like deliver and to stand in front of people and to lead. But we know equally if we sit with them and we explain that it doesn’t have the same effect. So we literally have to find these ways to be like what would be fun and be engaging and not necessarily kind of tell them beforehand. These are the five steps of leadership you’re going to learn, we literally do something that seems so opposite. Do it and then say, by the way, these are what we covered, this is what we done. And now let’s build on that. And by that time, anyone who was slightly hesitant or didn’t believe that they could be a leader in this space, has done that fun part of engaging what they came to do. And now that they believe that, actually, I can transfer those skills in to this, I’m completely open. And then that’s how we do it.

Vicky Browning [00:17:58] Enabling those young women to realise they can do it because they’ve already done it.

Kiran Kaur [00:18:02] Yeah. Because sometimes I just don’t think it necessarily works the other, in the more traditional way of “Here’s a leadership session. These are like, this is what it means. And this is how it runs”. Because our community come with different skills and different backgrounds and different life experiences, it’s very much how do they bring those authentic parts of themselves into leadership rather than us trying to teach this one format.

Amna Akhtar [00:18:24] So we have more of like an authentic and holistic approach to leadership. But like Kiran mentioned, there’s so many different women of colour that we’re dealing with. For us, it’s about celebrating each person and not just boxing them or creating one model of leadership and having them all kind of go through that and become robots at the end. So it’s about how do you come as yourself? Celebrate that and then present it to the rest of us in the world.

Nicola Brentnall [00:18:47] It’s not presented as a leadership development opportunity…

Amna and Kiran [00:18:50] No.

Vicky Browning [00:18:50] Sure.

Nicola Brentnall [00:18:50] Come longboard. And so the women come to do this opportunity. And there was a particularly gorgeous image of an event where you had all of the cohorts, about 30 women of colour longboarding through Birmingham on a Sunday festival. And what was magical about it was the sound and look of this experience, but also much younger children and young girls kind of looking. Look at them. They’re like me, I want to do that. So just literally cruising through Birmingham parks. There was a leadership message going out about what’s possible.

Vicky Browning [00:19:21] And you’re doing some work in the US. So are you engaging with other organisations in the US?

Kiran Kaur [00:19:26] Yes.

Vicky Browning [00:19:27] Tell me a little bit about that.

Kiran Kaur [00:19:29] We’re going tomorrow, actually. Yeah. From London to New York. We are meeting other organisations similar to ours, some smaller, our size, really big ones. And kind of just learning from them I would say. Just kind of engage in like how they started, what are the similarities and differences and things that they’re facing with women of colour in the US? What things are they doing to solve it? What things are proving effective or not? And then sharing ours in the UK perspective. Because especially being digital, we see a lot of crossover of women of colour, both in the US and the UK engaging with each other, but we want to learn more about what that kind of day to day looks like, what things about leadership there is looking like, development opportunities.

Amna Akhtar [00:20:08] Because as we are leaving ou third year now, we’re both kind of getting out of that start-up phase, we want to talk and have conversations about what does Girl Dreamer will look like in five, 10, 15 years. I think it’d be great to meet with all different sized companies and organisations in the States to see and learn from them.

Vicky Browning [00:20:26] In terms of your vision for the organisation, for Girl Dreamer, is it to reach more people? Is it to offer different things? What do you sort of see as the way you want the organisation to develop?

Kiran Kaur [00:20:37] Definitely want to continue in this path. We always say that our platform creates unique opportunities that you wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else. And they’re all aimed at personal and professional development, but through these unique and creative ways. And I think we’d want to definitely carry that on. Keep expanding the services where we can like engage with women of colour, constantly learn from. One thing we say is that we have to constantly be like learning, be relatable, be reliable and be ready to act. That means that we’re going to constantly change with time. So it’s really hard sometimes when we think five years. What will the world be looking like in five years? Our job is to try and position ourselves as current. And that’s really sometimes difficult to think. But I think…

Amna Akhtar [00:21:18] We have core values that remain the same.

Kiran Kaur [00:21:22] They will remain the same. The things that we can provide. Are they like innovative, are they authentic, are they holistic? Are we moving in that direction? And if so, we’ll continue to do that for years and years. But we really want to help women of colour also be leaders and changers in their communities. So even if we decide that we want to go international, we want Girl Dreamer to be everywhere, it’s with the hope that we can encourage women of colour to be those local leaders. How we started.

Vicky Browning [00:21:49] The model that you have of this combination of digital platform with face to face interactions, I think is a really powerful one because you are getting that sort of sense of cohortsthat can get together. But you’re engaging with them through a digital platform and through social media. Nicola, I’m interested in your comment about other leaders in the sector, perhaps what they can learn from people like Amna and Kiran. I think that sort of natural ability to engage in both those worlds. Is that how you see the future, that kind of mixture of digital lens and IRL?

Amna Akhtar [00:22:27] I think sometimes when we go too long without doing a project or an initiative in person, it can feel very like what are we doing with our lives? We’re not impacting women, even though we are with content and stuff. The stuff with content is just kind of in front of you. You can’t feel it.

Kiran Kaur [00:22:44] It’s not as tangible as actually meeting as a group. When we did the surfing one we had to live for four days with this random group of women.

Amna Akhtar [00:22:52] Strangers.

Kiran Kaur [00:22:52] We just did a call out over social media for… Just going from that and then realising and then finding out where people came and found you from. And you just like, well, so you don’t necessarily see that all the time until you share a house for days and that 14 of you and you’re surfing fours hours away in Newquay.

Amna Akhtar [00:23:09] Yeah. You know what’s funny as well, because when we put the call out and then obviously so many women applied and then they all met in our office and we took a coach down to Newquay. And on the way there, they were telling us, they were saying “We thought that the call out was fake, we were going to get kidnapped. And this was something to do with trafficking.” And then our response was, why would you come if you thought…? They were like “Well, we don’t want to miss out if it was good.”

Kiran Kaur [00:23:38] Too good to be true. So then it would be a case of FOMO if we didn’t come or a case of being kidnapped if we do. So we went with, you know just risk it.

Vicky Browning [00:23:44] That’s the power of FOMO.

Kiran Kaur [00:23:52] That’s the thing, when they said it’s too good to be true, these opportunities don’t exist for us, that’s what led us to even go as extreme as thinking that we were going to be trafficked or kidnapped, because this just seems unreal.

Vicky Browning [00:23:58] It doesn’t happen to people like me.

Kiran Kaur [00:24:00] Yeah. Then just kind of reinforce that. Yeah. We need to keep doing these things so that it just looks like, it just becomes a really normal, you know… it’s just something everybody can do.

Vicky Browning [00:24:11] In terms of how you are funded. You do a lot of crowdfunding? You’ve done one crowdfunding. Where does the money come from? First of all, where do you get funding from?

Kiran Kaur [00:24:21] Mixture. So we get funders such as QCT and then we… the crowdfunding was just a one time thing. And then we also do a bit of consulting work. We are using those experiences that we’ve had and who we are to go into the sector and hopefully change… A big thing is about being able to bridge the gap. So we have to be in both spaces and then being in that space allows us to not only kind of share that information and try to change the sector and allows us to earn from being in that space.

Vicky Browning [00:24:50] Tell me about the consulting. It’s going in and saying this is how you engage with different communities, this is how you engage with young people.

Kiran Kaur [00:24:56] Yeah, yeah. Mostly companies will ask for it, the kind of strand of diversity and inclusion on their end, this is specifically what we talk about. We talk about how to engage communities that maybe you’re finding hard to engage with at the moment, but it’s not because they’re hard to reach. This is how we bridge gaps. So we essentially go in teaching that. Then that allows us to also sustain away from just being funded as well.

Vicky Browning [00:25:20] That hard to reach thing.

Kiran Kaur [00:25:20] Oh, it’s a pet peeve of mine.

Vicky Browning [00:25:20] Because, actually, I’m here, you can reach me because I’m sitting here. It’s so kind of putting the blame on somebody else, isn’t it? I’m just here.

Kiran Kaur [00:25:37] I would say companies that are hardest to reach if you have to just… Someone said to you, go into the financial district and find this company and this person. If you’ve never seen big buildings and you’ve never been in an area like that. And you had to go and find this type of person, you would just be completely overwhelmed, get completely lost. It would make no sense to you. But if you said, OK, this area is where there’s lots of young people, you know, people from this background, it’s just one train ride in, one bus ride. It’s the schools. There’s universities, colleges. There’s so many ways to engage that community that is normal for everybody. But coming up to some parts of the city centre in the business world, that’s harder to reach, I’d say.

Vicky Browning [00:26:16] What would funders need to do to make your life easier in delivering what you you do?

Kiran Kaur [00:26:21] Be more like QCT… Because the biggest thing that I think most funders could do is listen and learn from the people or groups that they’re trying to… A lot of this is complex, like here’s our set of rules. And if you have something that can adhere to these rules or a project that ticks these, then, you know, there’s a good chance you will be funded. But that’s more difficult depending on how different the direction we’re going in. So it doesn’t suit individual styles.

Amna Akhtar [00:26:47] It’s very boxy. And one of the things is when you send over the paperwork and stuff and the application process, it’s, I feel like it’s quite demeaning because you have to constantly fit into their narrative, in these boxes. And it’s like, how many people did you work with? How many of them were deprived? And it’s like, questions like that really irritate the both of us…

Kiran Kaur [00:27:07] Especially when you come from that same community, is very personal and you like I don’t want to necessarily be referred to in this way. And the language is very messy. And we say women of colour and funders will say, can you say BAME, please? And we are like, no, because we like to say, we like to refer to ourselves and our community the way that they want to be referred to. Sometimes we have a lot of…We draw a lot on basics like that. So before we even got to execute an ideal thing we will be working on… .

Amna Akhtar [00:27:31] Because the term “of colour” isn’t that common in the UK yet.

Kiran Kaur [00:27:35] But people in the UK who are from a minority background prefer that term. So we like to write in our own way and we like our ideas in our own way. And sometimes it doesn’t fit the narrative on the other end of the funders. So funders like QCT they literally came in and said, OK, what would you like to do? What is it that you think works? What is it that you… It was very just like you’re the experts. QCT it’s been very like, OK, what do you need? What can we do? How can we support and not just through the funding application, here’s the money to do a project, but you as an organisation, if we’re going to have this relationship, what more can we do? So QCT have helped us with business planning and development. They highlight us on social media like all the times, so that brings in a different audience for us. It goes beyond just here’s some money.

Kiran Kaur [00:28:20] You talked about role models for the women that you work with. Who have your role models been? Who are the sorts of people that you’ve been inspired by.

Kiran Kaur [00:28:28] That’s hard. I don’t have particular ones. I think mine change all the time, but it’s like a type of person. So for me, it’s the type of person that is not afraid to kind of disrupt. And I see so many young women of colour that do that on a daily basis that I’ll be like, she really inspires me, and then the next I’ll be like that’s my role model, she inspires me. And it just constantly is that. And it is just… Then I found, you know, I think my role models are just anyone who just wants to disrupt and wants to challenge…

Amna Akhtar [00:28:58] My curent one is AOC.

Kiran Kaur [00:28:58] Politicians like that. Again because she just wasn’t afraid to just come in and kind of disrupt that space. And then that’s. Yeah. Disruptors are my role models.

Vicky Browning [00:29:07] I love that at the beginning you talked about thinking about what your legacy might be. a. ANd you were how old at the time?

Amna and Kiran [00:29:13] 19.

Vicky Browning [00:29:13] It’s just absolutely extraordinary to think. So, when you get to, towards, you know, further on in your career and you look back, what will you want that say… I suppose, what do you want your mum and dad to say? That would kind of affirm what you’ve achieved?

Amna Akhtar [00:29:29] It’s such an overwhelming question. I don’t know what that would be.

Kiran Kaur [00:29:33] I think for me would just be if women of colour just believe that regardless that they could do it and those dreams could be achieved. That would be my thing. I want to be X and know that that is very possible because there’s now, whether it’s been because there’s been this instilling of self belief or there’s been less blockages to that, that destination. Just knowing that what they believe they can achieve that for me would define that, you know what, this is, this is exactly why I wanted to do this. Because a lot of the time, whether it’s because we internally believe we can’t do it or externally, we have barriers. For me, that’s stopping way too many women of colour for achieving their dreams and essentially from those dreams being unachieved on seeming unattainable. It’s… I feel like women of colour impact on the world is not being felt. I don’t know, I can’t answer in a simple way. It’s just like, I can feel it. And I know, but it’s just hard to explain. I just kind of want women of colour to be living their best lives into their full potential.

Vicky Browning [00:30:38] Kiran, Amna, Nicola, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve loved talking to you. I have loved hearing about the dream. And I wish you all the very best in achieving it.

Amna and Kiran [00:30:47] Thank you so much.

Nicola Brentnall [00:30:48] Thank you.

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